Advent aims to unsettle us, to make us wait at a particularly uncomfortable crossroads.
Our readings, songs, and liturgies take us from our comfortable lives and situate us again where we actually are: in the the world’s and our own brokenness. Advent involves experiencing our own and others’ deep and abiding pain, the longings and griefs of our world and our hearts, manifested in so many profoundly heartbreaking ways (as Kat so acutely described).
Advent also awakens our hope in the Lord, Who enters this misery and suffers it as one of us. In His Incarnation, Jesus brings God’s Kingdom to this world and brings this world to the heart of the Father. He opens this world to God’s all-encompassing action and our definitive healing (as both John and Dannis pointed out so well).
But Advent refuses us the resignation of despair and the premature comfort of triumph. Advent asks us to wait in between. Stretched here between the suffering world and the Kingdom of God, between despair and triumph, in silent and tensed waiting, we might be transformed. In this intersection, Christ is being formed in us–slowly, unknowingly, yet truly–so as to bring the Kingdom of God to our broken world.
This weekend, the liturgy situates our Advent waiting with Mary’s. Between her encounter with Gabriel and the birth of Jesus, Mary waits in unobserved silence. This Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 1:39-45) describes the one event interrupting this silence and assuring its purpose: Mary’s trip “in haste” to her pregnant cousin Elizabeth. In her service to her cousin, in her greeting which fills Elizabeth with the Holy Spirit and makes John the Baptist leap in her womb, in her beautiful prayer of thanksgiving, Mary finds again the purpose of her waiting: she is carrying God so that God might live among us.
Our Advent situation is not so different. In our waiting, our abiding in the world’s grief and in the hope of God’s definitive joy, Christ comes to us silently. He comes to us in the silence of our neighbor’s suffering, in the mute but real presence of the Eucharist, in the often arid waiting of our prayer and service. He longs to dwell with us, to live in us, and this season of waiting can be the growth of His life in us, if only we abide trustfully with Him and let Him grow in us in silence.
The British devotional writer Caryll Houselander beautifully connected our own Advent waiting to Mary’s:
It is only necessary to give ourselves to that life, all that we are, to pray without ceasing, not by a continual effort to concentrate our minds but by a growing awareness that Christ is being formed in our lives from what we are.
We must trust Him for this, because it is not a time to see His face, we must possess Him secretly and in darkness, as the earth possesses the seed. […]
We must be swift to obey the winged impulses of His Love, carrying Him to wherever He longs to be; and those who recognize His presence will be stirred, like Elizabeth, with new life.
They will know His presence, not by any special beauty or power shown by us, but in the way that the bud knows the presence of the light, by an unfolding in themselves, a putting forth of their own beauty. […]
In [Mary] the Word of God chose to be silent for the season measured by God.
She, too, was silent; in her the light of the world shone in darkness.
Today, in many souls, Christ asks that He may grow secretly, that He may be the light shining in the darkness.
In the seasons of our Advent—waking, working, eating, sleeping, being—each breath is a breathing of Christ into the world. (A Rocking-Horse Catholic, pp. 76, 81)
On this last Sunday of Advent, let us look at where we are and what we are doing.
If all seems comfortable, easy, triumphant–the glass of our window fogged over by Christmas hymns, cookies, and family gatherings–let us again look to the poor and marginalized whose sufferings are real.
If all seems hopeless, dark–the days shortening and nights lengthening–let us wait hopefully for Christ to grow and act in us even when we cannot perceive it.
If we have avoided the waiting, if we have busied ourselves so as to obscure the world’s pain and the hope of Christ’s coming, let us turn again in empathy to our reality and in hope to the One already living in our hearts.
If Christ seems hidden from us, let us accept this in prayer and hope, letting Him be so, for He is at work, no less in the silent darkness of our world than in the silent darkness of Mary’s womb.
Let us wait for Him in silence, in merciful empathy, in joyful hope during these last five days of Advent. For Christ comes in our waiting to share our life. He grows in us so as to live His life in the world. Through us, He brings this world to the Father’s heart, our truest home.
Come, Lord Jesus.